Training for La Marmotte – Without Mountains

By Stefan Djurhuus

In general, you need climbs to become a climber. That being said, there are ways to prepare for long rides in the mountains like La Marmotte. These few training methods can vastly improve your performance, compared to riders who train in ignorance ahead of the effort before them. Ignorance is bliss, until you hit the bottom of Alpe d’Huez.

Longer Rides, Longer Intervals

Let me be captain obvious at first. Longer rides, longer intervals and all the climbs you can find would be a great start. Also, it’ll be a good way to get comfortable with the distance and the longer efforts. I’m not advocating going out to replicate the exact performance, though it would be perfect, but doing 20-minute efforts can be great to improve your base performance and get ready for longer efforts.


(For the record, the scale of percentages should be compared to your maximum effort on an hour – Hence, 100% means your max. ability for an hour, and not sprinting.)

20min intervals

– 20min at 80%​

When you go out for a ride, group or solo, try to do a 20 min effort of 80% per training hour – that will typically be around 1-3 per ride depending on your time in the saddle, condition and ambitions. These can be on the brink of boring, but rather suffer a bit here and there, in full control, than entering an utter suffer fest in the Alps. To those riding without power meters and heart rate monitor, you’re riding at approx. 80% when your chatting all of a sudden gets reduced to simple sentences like – yeah, okay, wow – which basically means you’ll need 80% of your breath to keep this pace.

Sitting, Standing

– 10min (switching between sitting and standing at 80-90%)​

This is a classic interval going back to Bjarne Riis and his old consigliere, Luigi Cecchini. I’ve had a few of these annoying ones on the menu before, courtesy of Michael Blaudzun, my former directeur sportif and a former Danish pro under Bjarne Riis training methods.

The interval is simple. 10 minutes at decent pace – 80-90%. While riding this interval, you’ll have to switch between sitting and standing on the bike. 1 minute sitting, 1 minute standing and so on until you reach 10 minutes. Since this interval is best suited to climbs, you’ll probably have to shift to a bigger gear when standing. This will help you to cope better with irregularities on an ascent, while activating those “climbing muscles” a little more. Think of Alberto Contador, while doing this interval.


– 8min (8x 50s at 90% + 10s at 130%)

Also a well-known classic for most pro riders – is the over/under. This interval is a lactic acid tolerance interval, where you keep building up lactic acid and spinning the acid out again. So the interval is an 8 min. effort, which starts with 50 seconds at 90% and then a 10-second effort at approx. 130%, then repeat 7 times more without a break. You should feel the burn after 1-2 repetitions, and the lactic acid should only be absent just before your next 10 seconds interval, where you just spent 50 seconds at decent pace and high cadence. A gruelling interval, but it is just as rewarding in terms of getting used to lactic acid and switching tempo. Mastering this interval will give you an advantage, when trying to drop somebody on a climb.

At last, I know most people don’t have the time to bang out +20 hours on the bike as most pros do. But incorporating these bad boys in your routine, would definitely improve your ability to climb and withstand some of the inevitable curveballs within a long race.


Stefan Djurhuus

Photos:  Peter Ebro / United Cycling 
Text: Stefan Djurhuus